Not your typical history classes

Not your typical history classes

May 19, 2017


Steven Maynard’s courses in Canadian history are “not your typical history classes.”

Instead of relying on textbooks or readings regarding the past, with students handing in a paper or writing an exam, Mr. Maynard develops a project based around a particular segment of Canadian history that requires students to research, create and present.

[Steven Maynard]
Steven Maynard and his students from HIST 312 attend the opening of the exhibition The Taste of the Library that they created and curated earlier this year  in the Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections located in Douglas Library. (Supplied Photo)  

“The approach I use is called the history of the present. That means a couple of different things but one of them is making the connections between the past and the present,” he explains. “A lot of students, even history students, understand the past as a kind of antiquarian project. It might be interesting to them but not necessarily have a lot of immediate application. So with this idea of the history of the present, I’m trying to get them to think of ways in which you might use the past to answer questions students have about the present.”

For example, as Queen’s devised its policy on sexual violence over the past several years, Mr. Maynard’s students conducted research in archival records to investigate the university’s previous efforts to grapple with the issue.

More recently, students in Mr. Maynard’s HIST 312 Canadian Social History course were tasked with exploring interesting themes in regards to food and what stories cookbooks tell. As with all of his courses, an emphasis is placed on students honing skills in seminar presentation, historiographical critique, and primary historical research.

For HIST 312 this meant digging deep into the cookbooks collection found in the Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections located in Douglas Library. To complete the course, the students created and curated an exhibit highlighting their research called The Taste of the Library.

“The projects I come up with are almost always about making a link with a current issue but even if they’re not doing that I try to design a project where the students present their work in public,” Mr. Maynard explains, adding that he is always trying to answer the question of ‘What can I do with a history degree?’ “I think it’s incumbent upon those of us who teach history to have an answer and one of the answers is to get students to think about ways their research can have a public life rather than just writing a term paper. Presenting your research in public, explaining your work to a live audience or to the media, these are portable skills.”

For encouraging students to use primary sources and engage critically with those resources in his courses. Mr. Maynard was the 2016 recipient of the Promoting Student Inquiry Teaching Award, one of six Principal’s Teaching and Learning Awards.

The award is sponsored and coordinated by Queen’s University Library. Queen’s Archives, which is part of Queen’s University Library, is where most of the primary sources used in Mr. Maynard’s courses are found.

“It’s an incredible resource and they are always really helpful when I come along with a new idea,” he says, adding that he does the advance work and then works with an archivist. Students then conduct much of their research through Queen’s Archives.

The Principal’s Teaching and Learning Awards, created in 2015, recognize individuals and teams who have shown exceptional innovation and leadership in teaching and learning on campus. The awards are administered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

The Promoting Student Inquiry Teaching recognizes innovative instructional design which enables active student engagement in learning.

Nominations for the 2017 award are currently being accepted. All nominations should be sent electronically in PDF form to no later than Tuesday, Aug. 1, by 4 pm. For more information about the award and the nomination form and process, visit the CTL website

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